Most people who build a house begin with a plan. Donald and Janice Hobart began with a collection of file folders -- pictures, notes and ideas gathered over the 30-plus years they spent living in houses that other people had designed.
From Hawaii to Hyattsville and on to Westminster, Mrs. Hobart fed her folders, tucking in an idea for a bedroom here, an interesting floor plan there, paint chips and fabric swatches.
Ive had all these plans for years in my folders, said Mrs. Hobart, who heads the guidance department at Westminster High School. I was a home economics major at Western Maryland and I started collecting in my college years, just good ideas. -- I have some of the oldest pictures!
That accumulation of ideas finally flowered four years ago on a wooded, rolling 7-acre lot in Carroll County, where the couple built a four-bedroom, six-bath Cape Cod rambler in 1995.
Hobart was about to retire from his job teaching anatomy at the University of Maryland. With their two daughters grown and gone, the couple decided they were ready at last to build a home of their own.
People said, Now that your kids are gone, why are you doing this?'" Mrs. Hobart said. We built this house for our old age.
They began with a design that had appeared in Southern Living (and found its way into Mrs. Hobarts folders). The design, a two-story Cape Cod rambler with dormer windows, resembled the first house the couple shared after they were married, when Mr. Hobart was stationed in Hawaii for the Army.
From folder to finish for this house, however, took an army of a different sort: experts.
We really needed a lot of professional help with the modification of the original design, Mrs. Hobart said. We needed an architect, a friend whos an interior designer.
They ended up using two architects, and also consulted a landscaper on the placement of the house.
The result is thoughtful and deliberate, a comfortable, airy floor plan that is flexible enough to accommodate them as they grow older.
The joy of this house is in the windows, Mrs. Hobart said. When you walk in the front door, theres a view everywhere you look.
The front door opens into a wide, sweeping hallway that -- if necessary -- could easily accommodate a wheelchair or a walker (or a lot of grandchildren and their toys).
The hall flows into a large, sunny family room that, in turn, opens into an enormous kitchen with three ovens and built-in recycling bins under an oversized center island.
Mrs. Hobart loves to cook and entertain, and her kitchen reflects what every hostess knows: People flock to the source of food. So she has a generous amount of counter, floor and cabinet space, and a natural, easy traffic pattern into the family room.
There are three bedrooms and three baths upstairs, but the house was carefully laid out so that everything essential is on a single level. The master bedroom and bath are on the first floor. So is the laundry room -- but getting it there was not easy.
Instead of the traditional placement behind the kitchen, Mrs. Hobart wanted her washer and dryer near the bedroom -- where most of the laundry gets put away when its done.
Both architects and several plumbers tried to change her mind.
Fighting every man who worked on this house! is how Mrs. Hobart describes her struggle to move the laundry room away from the kitchen. She prevailed, however, and is delighted with the convenience. Its so sensible, she said with a trace of exasperation.
Such common sense can be seen all around the Hobarts 3,400-square-foot house. A woodworking shop in the basement allows Mr. Hobart to build the tray tables, wooden ornaments and footstools that his Hobart Studios sells -- and delivery trucks can follow the driveway around the back of the house to a door that opens directly into the shop.
The master bathroom has a large, sunken tub with a spectacular view of the woods to the west -- and an oversized shower stall, something Mr. Hobart insisted on. The one battle I won was the size of the shower, he said with a smile. You can get in there and turn around.
The house has 1,800 square feet of wood flooring -- a mix of red oak and chestnut milled from the trees cut down to make room for the house that Mr. Hobart installed himself.
Mr. Hobart also acted as his own general contractor -- an arrangement that saved about $150,000 on the $230,000 construction job. But there were some hidden costs, the Hobarts say.
It was the most stressful thing weve ever done, Mrs. Hobart said. I thought I was super-organized, and things still went amok.
I was the builder, so if she had to get mad at somebody, she got mad at me, Mr. Hobart said.
The Hobarts have very few second thoughts about their house. In the end, the file folders yielded a plan for a house where living, working and entertaining are easy and enjoyable.